Frans Timmermans, first Vice-President of the European Commission, spoke on the rule of law and a sustainable Europe at the EESC's December plenary.
"We need to strive for a new future for Europe – or, as we call it, a rEUnaissance. In order to earn the support of our citizens, it is crucial that we focus on opportunities rather than risks," said EESC president Luca Jahier at the outset of the debate.
In his speech, Mr Timmermans noted that the rule of law was the European Union's very foundation and warned against setbacks. "We can see autocratic tendencies where democracy is turning against the rule of law, and governments use the majority obtained in recent elections to undermine the independence of the judiciary", Mr Timmerman said. He condemned the law that had recently been passed in Hungary without consulting trade unions, whereby workers could be asked to work up to 400 hours overtime a year. He also expressed deep concern over Poland's attempt to forbid its lawyers from seeking guidance from the European Court of Justice in cases of doubt.
Involvement of civil society in the transition to a sustainable Europe
With regard to sustainability, Mr Timmermans thanked the Committee for its significant role in the multi-stakeholder platform, which could be held up as a model for civil society's future involvement, for instance in platforms on the energy transition, plastics, taxation, social protection, inequalities – wherever there was a need to step up dialogue. "We have reached a consensus and achieved success; however, we still have work to do," Mr Timmermans concluded.
Taxation and the social pillar – the main instruments for social sustainability
The next Commission will need to set out a precise programme ensuring that big companies pay their taxes in the places where they make their profits, and it must urge Member States to work on the social pillar.
"We need to include social sustainability", Mr Timmermans emphasised. "Unfortunately, with growing inequality, too many people are following a backward-looking path, but while the past is a good teacher it cannot be the destination for the future," he said, and ended with a quote from Jean Jaurès: "It is by flowing to the sea that a river stays true to its source." (sma)